On 1 April 2010, India became the 135th country to make education a fundamental right. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act guaranteed a seventh right to every Indian citizen: right to education of all children between the ages of 6 to 14 (the other six being right to equality, rights of freedom of speech and religion, right against exploitation, right to preserve one’s culture and a right to move court in case of violation of a right).
All privately run schools are now legally required to reserve a quarter of their seats for children from poor families, with the government reimbursing the expenses for these seats. As expected, opposition rose from many quarters. The Supreme Court of India was petitioned by the an organisation representing unaided schools (schools not aided financially by the government), stating “the act violates the constitutional right of private managements to run their institutions without governmental interference”. SC turned down the petition, commenting that the act was not unconstitutional, and that the act did not apply to minority-run and boarding schools. The act also faced other criticism.
When reading the newspaper this morning, I came across a disgustingly heartbreaking article. Below I quote parts of RTE students face discrimination, Deccan Herald, 18 July 2012, Page 4A.
..Ten children are enrolled under RTE in a Nandini Layout school and strands of their hair have been chopped off to identify them as students under the quota..
..these students are made to sit on the last bench in the classroom, allowed into the school only after everyone else has entered, and their homework and classwork books are all empty since no care is taken to check the books of these children..
..A first standard child asked me, what studying ‘for free’ meant..
..He said students were chided at the school for availing free education and were not given any sports equipment. Their names were not included in the attendance register and their lunch baskets were kept separate. They were not allowed to eat with other children in the school..
While this may only be one case, in a country as large as ours, how many such cases go unreported? The intention behind the act is – beyond question – wonderful, but one has to ask if enough research and thought has gone behind the implementation of the act? IF government schools in the country could meet bare minimum standards, perhaps the need for this act wouldn’t even exist. This is not to say that all government schools are terrible, but I know of schools where ten classes are squeezed into three tiny classrooms under the aegis of a couple of barely qualified teachers. Students are not held back in such schools, and are generally passed onto higher grades effortlessly until class X. The state-wide exams for class X are generally conducted with the utmost integrity and the students are seated in different schools in the locality. Unable to copy, most such students fare poorly and hence drop out of school with almost no academic skills. Such government schools, whose main objective is to cater to the educational needs of the poor and through education help them out of poverty, does a wonderful job at rendering the kids unemployable and keeping them in poverty.
Some things are beyond our control; The family we are born into is one such. Fortunately, I (and if you’re able to read this, you) were born into financially stable families who could provide for our education. Should those ten discriminated kids in the article be put through such mental harassment just because they happened to be born into poor families? And ironically, it is only education that can truly uplift families living in poverty.
Professions in medicine, education and politics are supposed to be more than mere professions for financial gain; Doctors, teachers and politicians have the power to change lives. Unfortunately for us, it is these very fields in our country that are the most corrupt and are the realm of some of the most greedy people.
The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrollment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents’ responsibility to send the children to schools in the U.S. and other countries ~ Sam Carlson, World Bank Education Specialist for India